Pane Toscano Scuro

I’m in the mood to create a Minnesota version of Pennies From Heaven. Every time it snows, it snows pennies from heaven. This song has always been able to put me into a shimmering state of mind. You’ll find your fortune falling all over town/ Be sure that your umbrella is upside down! Trade them for a package of sunshine and flowers. If you want the things you love, you must have showers! While simple enough, it strikes a deep truth—you cannot have joy without sorrow—we only know one by the other.

It is the same with light and darkness. I made the light version of this bread, Pane Toscano, and now here is the dark—scuro in Italian meaning swarthy or dark. On the Second Sunday of Advent I contemplated the literary phenomenon of foil, which describes how entities can be better known by the presence of their opposite. How curious that it is only through Christ’s humanity that we have come to more fully know the divine. And how strange that He was able to fully embody both. 


Pane Toscano Scuro

Adapted from The Italian Baker

Sponge Ingredients:

1 1/3 cup flour

½ cup starter

1 cup water

Final Dough Ingredients:

1 cup white flour

3 ¼ cups whole wheat flour

1 cup water

1 cup starter

All of the sponge



In a bowl, combine the sponge ingredients. Cover and let rest for about 8 hours or overnight.

Combine all of the final dough ingredients. Mix until the ingredients are incorporated. Adjust the water as needed to achieve a medium dough consistency.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled container. Cover and ferment for 1 to 1.5 hours, until the dough approximately doubles in size.

Turn the dough into a lightly floured counter. Flatten and shape into a boule, seam-side down on a floured or parchment covered board.

Proof, covered, for about an hour, until the indentation left by a fingertip springs back very slowly.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven, with baking stone, to 450F. You will also need steam during the initial phase of baking, so prepare for this now.

Just before baking, slash in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Image

Once the loaf is in the oven, reduce the temperature to 400F. Bake for 8 minutes with steam, and another 22 minutes or so without steam. Then turn off the oven and leave loaf in for another 10 minutes, with the door ajar.

Cool on a wire rack.


Pennies From Heaven is a tune that has been taking laps through my brain because I get to perform it this weekend at the Department of Surgery holiday party! Last Saturday, I sang with Take Two at the Assisi Heights’ Umbrian Christmas fundraiser for the nuns who live there—and yes, Marilyn, in the pic taken by my bread guru (no less!) I am wearing Grandma Alice’s 40s black lace collar! While I thought the high point would be getting the chance to sing, it was actually meeting Zola, a 90-year-old nun who recited a poem she memorized, Prinderella and Cince, which my gairy fodmother Sarah Roskum used to say for me, and which now I have a goal of memorizing before I’m ninety. 

2 thoughts on “Pane Toscano Scuro

  1. Ah yes, the dark winter of 95, just 3 weeks after burying my Dad and then moving out of our brand new house, that flooded from a burst pipe in the winter weather…I sat, weepy with grief, at the Residence Inn watching you and Dave tell me that “this is the best vacation ever!”, steaming away while the ice storms raged. That night we watched Pennies from Heaven with Bing Crosby, one of my Dad’s favorite movies, and I remembered to watch for Pennies when the darkness moves in, just as you so beautifully describe. You and your brother were two of my pennies that sad season, Rachel…keep singing!

    1. I remember playing tennis with Dave at midnight on the ice covered courts at the inn we were bunkered at when our house flooded– but I hadn’t remembered the Pennies From Heaven film– I’ll have to watch that now and see if it rings. Love to you

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